I’ve got to be honest…I never really thought about visiting Portugal. But back in September 2014, I was on a flight home from Paris after a life-changing two weeks in Europe, and a flirty Portuguese flight attendant asked me where I had traveled. I told him.
“Next time,” he said, “you’ve got to go to Portugal.”
After traveling for several hours, wearing no makeup and feeling kind of icky, I was not in the mood for flirting. I did, however, take note of his recommendation. “Okay,” I thought. “Next trip, I’ll visit Portugal.”
This is an argument in favor of accepting recommendations from strangers. Because…wow, I’m glad I listened to that flight attendant. About an hour after my plane landed in Lisbon, I fell in love…with this beautiful, amazing city.
Magical mosaic sidewalks, winding narrow streets, scenic overlooks, laundry hanging outside fourth floor windows, the riverfront. Pastries. Sunshine. And friendly people.
I have found Lisbon to be accessible and unpretentious. It’s a little rough around the edges…a few abandoned buildings, a lot of graffiti and quiet, narrow alleyways…but safe. It’s easy to get lost wandering through the winding alleys, but if you can find the river, you’re golden. And the people are willing to point you in the right direction – or even walk you to you next destination – if you’re lost.
I don’t know exactly what it was that got me, but Lisbon has me by the heart. The city is so different from what I’m used to, but it is unabashedly itself. And I love all of it.
During my eight days in Lisbon, I have toured castles and cathedrals, enjoyed innumerable pastries, spent evenings sitting by the river listening to street performers, followed guides through walking tours, visited museums and sampled delicious wines, liquors and foods. The pace feels calm and easy. And much like my adopted hometown of Phoenix, the sun is always shining.
That flight attendant was right on target. Visit Lisbon if you can. Here are just seven of the reasons why you won’t be disappointed.
1. Mosaic Sidewalks
Lisbon’s black and white mosaic sidewalks enchanted me as soon as the airport shuttle dropped me off at Rossio Square. Their slippery surfaces and bold black patterns provide an elegant contrast to the graffiti, construction, honking horns and other capitol city characteristics that even Lisbon can’t escape. The sidewalks and squares make every step feel like a special occasion.
I’m a protein-shake-for-breakfast, green-salad-for-lunch kind of girl, so I am not going to fess up to how many pastries I ate in Lisbon (about 12 in five days), but I will say that they are truly delicious. And to know which bakery has the best pastries, and which pastries you personally like the best, you have no choice to try several. It’s a given. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to quit your diet while in Lisbon.
Lisbon’s most famous pastry is the Pastéis de Belém, which can only be purchased from a cafe of the same name, located in Belem. According to various sources, only two or three people know the recipe for this delectable tart, and the written version is in a vault stored in another country! The tarts are served hot for a fee of 1,05 Euro from the cafe Belem. And they are well worth the price. I know…I had two.
Copy cat versions are available throughout Lisbon, and some are very tasty. But even locals travel the 20 0r so minutes to Pastéis de Belém to get the real thing. Do it. You won’t be sorry!
3. Vinho Verde
Vinho Verde is translated in English as “green wine,” and it’s delicious. So called because it’s made from very young green grapes and tastes like a mixture of white wine and champagne. Like Port (made in Porto, Portugal), Vinho Verde is a signature Portuguese drink. It’s perfect for summertime because it’s cool, refreshing and slightly sweet. Tasty bottles are available in grocery stores for less than 3 Euro. Casal Garcia is a favorite brand and costs slightly more, but I found that the cheaper varieties tasted just as good!
5. Winding Streets
Getting lost in Lisbon is almost inevitable, and that’s half the fun! Many “streets” are just a series of mosaic steps or narrow alleyways, where you can’t see more than 200 feet in front of you because the turns are so sharp. I found this characteristic to be a bit intimidating while walking alone, but I kept my solo wandering to the daylight hours, and often happened upon a sweet local scene like a little old woman with a cane slowly making her way to a doorstep with a faithful dog trotting along behind her.
6. Breathtaking Views
Lisbon is said to rest on seven hills, and it certainly appears to be true, because there are amazing overlooks throughout the city that allow views of rooftops for miles. When you visit Lisbon, skip the Santa Justa Lift, which always has a long line of tourists waiting to pay a fee for the view from the top. There are better views from at least five other places in the city that you can visit for free, and likely enjoy live music and/or a glass of wine at the same time. Ask for information at the visitor’s center or take free walking tour to get directions.
7. Street Art
I’m a fan of street art, and it’s abundant in Lisbon. According to one of my walking tour guides, the government went so far as to commission prominent local artists to paint walls throughout the city. The results are lovely, and worth a tour in themselves.
8. Top Hostels
Every year, Hostelworld.com creates a ranking of the top 10 hostels in the world based on user reviews. In 2015, six of the top 10 hostels are located in Lisbon. Two others are in Porto. Portugal knows how to make budget travelers happy, at least when it comes to accommodation. I stayed at Goodnight Hostel, which is not listed on the top 10 ranking but is my favorite hostel yet. It’s centrally located and very clean (which is a big deal if you’ve stayed in many hostels) the staff is friendly and helpful (say hi to Victor for me!), AND they serve free breakfast that includes fresh pancakes. But to be honest, Goodnight Hostel had me at “free sangria.” It’s delicious, and served every night. I had no complaints. 🙂